N. Korea Agrees To Talks On MIAs

North and South Korea flags on Korean peninsula map, 6-14-00
AP
North Korea has accepted a U.S. proposal for new talks on recovering remains of American servicemen missing from the Korean War, the North Korean media said Wednesday.

North Korea's military agreed to the talks "out of humanitarian concern," the North's official news agency KCNA said. It wasn't immediately clear when Washington made the proposal.

More than 8,000 American military personnel are missing from the 1950-53 war. Since 1996, American teams have recovered more than 150 sets of remains believed to be those of American soldiers. Ten were identified and returned to their families for burial.

The news agency's source was a spokesman at the North Korean military's office in the village of Panmunjom. The border town is where the U.S.-led United Nations Command and the North Korean military meet to oversee the armistice that ended the war.

Despite the North's willingness to discuss the U.S. proposal, tension persisted over a U.S. intelligence report about a North Korean nuclear testing site.

The New York Times reported this week that U.S. officials believe North Korea is developing technology to make nuclear warheads small enough for its missiles. Such a development might deepen the standoff between North Korea and Washington and its allies over the North's suspected development of nuclear weapons.

The United States on Wednesday called a meeting with the four other U.N. Security Council powers — France, Russia, China and Britain — to push for a statement condemning North Korea. Ambassadors from the five countries were to meet Wednesday to discuss the U.S.-drafted statement.

Last week, Pyongyang urged the council to refrain from taking sides.

The Times said CIA officials shared information with South Korea, Japan and other allies about the testing site in Youngdoktong. The Seoul government has not commented on reports about the site.

"The government must not withhold information critical to national security from the public because of fears of hurting ties with North Korea," said Park Jin of the opposition Grand National Party.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency cited a senior South Korean official as saying the U.S. report was based on old intelligence. Yonhap said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying there was no evidence North Korea was working on small nuclear warheads.

Paik Hak-soon, a North Korea expert at the private Sejong Institute, said U.S. officials could hope the report will galvanize international pressure on the communist country. "This whole thing may have been politically motivated," he said.

According to the Times report, equipment at the Youngdoktong site has been set up to test conventional explosives that, when set off, could detonate a nuclear explosion.

The South Korean Defense Ministry has said that North Korea has conducted dozens of nuclear-related tests of high explosives since 1983.

"We have concerns," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said in Washington on Tuesday. "North Korea is working hard on its WMD (weapons of mass destruction) program, as well as on the means to deliver those programs."

The nuclear standoff flared in October when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted having a secret uranium-enrichment program.